While a World Health Organization-led joint UN humanitarian assessment team decried the state of the Al-Shifa Hospital in northern Gaza where they were greeted by a mass grave at the entrance, their colleagues at Doctors Without Borders (MSF) were mourning the loss of a staff’s relative, killed in an attack on the convoy trying to evacuate 137 people.
These included MSF Palestinian staff members and their families who were trapped for a week in MSF premises located near Al-Shifa Hospital.
The humanitarian organisation believes the incident was a “deliberate attack” by the Israeli Defense Forces as parties to the conflict were made aware of the evacuation.
“(Saturday) morning, at 9am local time, an MSF convoy composed of five cars, all clearly marked with MSF identification, including on the cars’ roofs, with 137 people, composed of MSF Palestinian staff members and families, among them 65 children, left the MSF premises, the guest house, office, outpatient clinic located near Al-Shifa Hospital, heading to southern Gaza for a safer place,” MSF said.
It added that since November 11 they had been trapped under fire because of ongoing fighting, and since then MSF has repeatedly called to evacuate them safely.
“MSF had informed both parties of the conflict of this movement. The convoy went through the itinerary indicated by the Israeli army and reached Salah Al Deen Street, along with other civilians trying to leave the area,” MSF said.
The convoy reached the last checkpoint near Wadi Gaza, which was overcrowded at that time due to extensive screenings of Palestinians by Israeli forces.
“Despite the information shared with the Israeli army, they weren’t allowed to cross the checkpoint for hours. Shots were later heard by our staff, pushing them to turn back out of fear and head back to MSF premises, located around 7 km from the checkpoint,” MSF said.
On their way back, between 3.30pm and 4pm local time, the convoy was attacked on Al-Wehda Street near the junction of Said Al A’as Street, near the MSF office.
“Two of the MSF cars were deliberately hit, killing one MSF staff’s family member and injuring another.
“MSF calls again to urgently allow the evacuation of our staff, as well as of thousands of other people trapped by fighting and living in extremely dire conditions in northern Gaza.
“We are calling for an immediate ceasefire, which is the only way for corridors to be implemented in order to evacuate trapped civilians safely.”
A day before that incident, Gift of the Givers’ Gaza regional head Ahmed Abbasi was killed along with his brother allegedly by Israeli forces while returning from a morning prayer on Thursday.
The St George's Cathedral held a memorial in his honour on Sunday.
Gaza’s health ministry raised its death toll from the unrelenting Israeli bombardment to 12 300, including 5 000 children. Israel has vowed to eliminate Hamas following its October 7 attack where about 1 400 people were killed and 240 taken hostages.
The “desperate” situation in Gaza has compelled the World Health Organization and its partners to urgently develop plans for the immediate evacuation of the remaining patients, staff and their families from Al-Shifa Hospital.
During its assessment on Saturday the team made up of public health experts, logistics officers and security staff were able to spend only one hour inside the hospital, which they described as a ‘death zone’, and the situation as ‘desperate’.
Signs of shelling and gunfire were evident. The team saw a mass grave at the entrance of the hospital and were told that more than 80 people were buried there.
“The mission was deconflicted with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to ensure safe passage along the agreed route.
However, this was a high-risk operation in an active conflict zone, with heavy fighting ongoing in close proximity to the hospital,” WHO said.
Earlier in the day, the IDF issued evacuation orders to the remaining 2500 internally displaced people who had been seeking refuge in the hospital grounds.
They, along with a number of mobile patients and hospital staff, had already vacated the facility by the time of the team’s arrival. Lack of clean water, fuel, medicines, food and other essential aid over the past six weeks have caused Al-Shifa Hospital – once the largest, most advanced and best equipped referral hospital in Gaza – to essentially stop functioning.